Mad Dog: No News Would Be Better News

The headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle read: Bob Hope Is Still Very Much Alive. Now there's some enlightening news for you. What's tomorrow's headline going to be,"George Burns Isn't ?"By now you probably know that the Associated Press accidentally posted a pre-written obituary for Bob Hope on their website. This was all Arizona Representative Bob Stump needed to hear before he went and announced to Congress that Hope was dead. Sure the obituary included such important details as -- and I quote, "Bob Hope, Tireless Master of the One-Liner, Dead at XX," but obviously Stump assumed this was a reference to an obscure Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, "On The Road to Rome," and figured it meant he was twenty years old when he died.The truth is, the headline in the Chronicle would have made more sense had they reported Hope's death in the first place, but they didn't. That made the headline non-news. What's next, a succession of front pages splashed with such ground-breaking stories as "The Earth is Still Round," "The Sun Rises Again," and"Raisins Were Once Grapes?"The Chronicle was far from the only newspaper to do this. In fact, the precedent was set in the 70's when Saturday Night Live's Chevy Chase would begin each Weekend Update with"And in our top story, Generalisimo Francisco Franco is still dead." The difference is he was trying to be funny.This proves that life doesn't really imitate art -- art imitates art, the media imitates the media, and Bill Clinton imitates Wilt Chamberlain. Hey, it could be worse. Bill could have picked Dennis Rodman as his role model.All this comes about because apparently the public can't get enough news, or so the media seems to think. Entertainment Tonight tells us more about Hollywood stars than anyone including the stars themselves could possibly be interested in. The media endlessly discusses such minutiae as the 4,327 possibilities of what the supposed distinguishing characteristic of the President's penis could be. And even now, after 120 years on the air, Andy Rooney still thinks we want to know that he's confused about why there's cotton inside an aspirin bottle.The problem is that thanks to the so-called Information Age, and in particular the Internet, it's becoming increasingly more difficult for the media to find enough news. CNN and MSNBC are on 24 hours a day. Dateline is expanding next season, putting them dangerously close to airing 8 days a week. And now it turns out that ABC News is so hard up that they're planning to broadcast 27 hours of live coverage of the turn of the millennium. That's right, twenty-seven hours of it. It will start at midnight Eastern time December 31, 1999 and run through the following day in the Pacific time zone.The glory of this is that the news won't change! Every hour the story will be the same: It's a New Millennium. Think of the money this will save on writers and reporters. In fact, if they're smart they'll pre-tape one reporter celebrating the new year and just rerun it over and over, slipping as many commercials in between as they can for M&M's ("The Official Candy of the Millennium"), Miller Beer ("The Official Beer of the Millennium"), and Sominex ("We'll Be Out of Business If You Watch ABC's Millennium Coverage").Most telling is that it's the news division that's doing this, not the entertainment division. Exactly how many people do they think are going to turn the TV on that day and say,"Honey! Come here! I just heard something incredible -- it's the start of a new millennium!?" Besides, most of us will be so busy arguing over whether it's really the start of the millennium that we won't have time to watch their silly coverage anyway.It's true people are hungry for information. According to the Worldwatch Institute (motto: "Yup, it's still here") by the year 2000 over four million Chinese will be online, yet only half of them will have a toilet. Now that's dedication to finding information. My biggest fear is that they'll fire up their new computer, log on to the Internet, and the first news they'll see is,"Mao Tse Tung is Still Dead" I can hear the clicking of power switches from here.


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